Lists, Reviews

Debut Fiction, 2015

Quite honestly, January is made for lists. This list is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Geore Orwell
10. The Book of Speculation // Erika Swyler

“A beautifully crafted and hand-illustrated debut novel about a mysterious book that holds the key to a curse that has haunted a family of traveling circus performers for generations

Simon Watson, a young librarian on the verge of losing his job, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home—a house, perched on the edge of a bluff, that is slowly crumbling toward the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, works for a traveling carnival reading tarot cards, and seldom calls.

On a day in late June, Simon receives a mysterious package from an antiquarian bookseller. The book tells the story of Amos and Evangeline, doomed lovers who lived and worked in a traveling circus more than two hundred years ago. The paper crackles with age as Simon turns the yellowed pages filled with notes, sketches, and whimsical flourishes; and his best friend and fellow librarian, Alice, looks on in increasing alarm. Why does his grandmother’s name, Verona Bonn, appear in this book? Why do so many women in his family drown on July 24? Could there possibly be some kind of curse on his family—and could Enola, who has suddenly turned up at home for the first time in six years, risk the same fate in just a few weeks? In order to save her—and perhaps himself—Simon must try urgently to decode his family history while moving on from the past.

The Book of Speculation is Erika Swyler’s gorgeous and moving debut, a wondrous novel about the power of books and family and magic.”

09. I’d Walk with My Friends If I Could Find Them  // Jesse Goolsby

“In this powerful debut novel, three American soldiers haunted by their actions in Afghanistan search for absolution and human connection in family and civilian life.

Wintric Ellis joins the army as soon as he graduates from high school, saying goodbye to his girlfriend, Kristen, and to the backwoods California town whose borders have always been the limits of his horizon. Deployed in Afghanistan two years into a directionless war, he struggles to find his bearings in a place where allies could at any second turn out to be foes. Two career soldiers, Dax and Torres, take Wintric under their wing. Together, these three men face an impossible choice: risk death or commit a harrowing act of war. The aftershocks echo long after each returns home to a transfigured world, where his own children may fear to touch him and his nightmares still hold sway.”

08. Unbecoming // Rebecca Scherm (January, Viking)

“A major new debut thriller about a small-town girl who charms her way into the world of international art fraud.

On the grubby outskirts of Paris, Grace restores bric-a-brac, mends teapots, re-sets gems. She calls herself Julie, says she’s from California, and slips back to a rented room at night. Regularly, furtively, she checks the hometown paper on the Internet. Home is Garland, Tennessee, and there, two young men have just been paroled. One, she married; the other, she’s in love with. Both were jailed for a crime that Grace herself planned in exacting detail. The heist went bad—but not before she was on a plane to Prague with a stolen canvas rolled in her bag. And so, in Paris, begins a cat-and-mouse waiting game as Grace’s web of deception and lies unravels—and she becomes another young woman entirely.

Unbecoming is an intricately plotted and psychologically nuanced heist novel that turns on suspense and slippery identity. With echoes of Alfred Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith, Rebecca Scherm’s mesmerizing debut is sure to entrance fans of Gillian Flynn, Marisha Pessl, and Donna Tartt.”

07. Pretty Is // Maggie Mitchell (July, Henry Holy & Co.)

“A fiercely inspired fiction debut in which two young women—an actress and an academic—face what really happened the summer they were twelve, when a handsome stranger abducted them.

Everyone thought we were dead. We were missing for nearly two months; we were twelve. What else could they think? —Lois

It’s always been hard to talk about what happened without sounding all melodramatic. . . .  Actually, I haven’t mentioned it for years, not to a goddamned person. —Carly Mae

When precocious Lois and pretty Carly May were twelve years old, they were kidnapped, driven across the country, and held in an Adirondack hunting lodge for two months. Maggie Mitchell’s spellbinding debut Pretty Is is about the repercussions of that formative summer, when two girls who previously did not know each other shared an experience that would shape all their days to come.

At the novel’s start, Lois Lonsdale has begun teaching British literature at a small college in upstate New York. Out in LA, Chloe Savage (formerly Carly May) is a lonely actress, drinking too much and struggling to revive her career. When a movie script with a shockingly familiar plot comes into their lives, the women must grapple with unresolved losses and gains that have lain hidden for years behind the public’s feverish presumptions.”

06. My Sunshine Away // M.O. Walsh (February, Putnam Adult)

“My Sunshine Away unfolds in a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom. But in the summer of 1989, when fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson—free spirit, track star, and belle of the block—experiences a horrible crime late one evening near her home, it becomes apparent that this idyllic stretch of Southern suburbia has a dark side, too.

In My Sunshine Away, M.O. Walsh brilliantly juxtaposes the enchantment of a charmed childhood with the gripping story of a violent crime, unraveling families, and consuming adolescent love. Acutely wise and deeply honest, it is an astonishing and page-turning debut about the meaning of family, the power of memory, and our ability to forgive.”

05. Kitchens of the Great Midwest // J. Ryan Stradal (July, Pamela Dorman Books)

“Already a hotly anticipated debut—about a young woman with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the iconic chef behind the country’s most coveted dinner reservation.

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life—its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent, sure to appeal to readers of Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Olive Kitteridge, and Garrison Keillor.”

04. The Casualties // Nick Holdstock (August, Thomas Dunne Books)

“In the vein of The Leftovers, a man recounts the final weeks of his neighborhood before the apocalyptic event which only a few of the eccentric residents will survive.

Samuel Clark likes secrets. He wants to know the hidden stories of the bizarre characters on the little streets of Edinburgh, Scotland. He wants to know about a nymphomaniac, a man who lives under a bridge, a girl with a cracked face. He wants to uncover their histories because he has secrets of his own.  He believes, as people do, that he is able to change. He believes, as the whole world does, that there is plenty of time to solve his problems. But Samuel Clark and the rest of the world are wrong. Change and tragedy are going to scream into his and everyone’s lives. It will be a great transformation, a radical change; and it just might be worth the cost.”

03. The Insect Farm // Stuart Prebble (July, Mulholland)

“An eerie debut suspense novel that explores how little one man may know his own brother–and his own mind.

The Maguire brothers each have one driving, single-minded obsession. For Jonathan, it is Harriet, his magnificent, talented, and desirable wife. For Roger, it is the ant farm in the shed of their parents’ house, into which he pours an attention to detail and talent for organization he thoroughly lacks in every other capacity. Over time, the farm grows in scope and ambition to become nearly like the lair of a mad scientist.

Its complexity suggests that Roger–known to all as a loving, protective, yet simple man–is capable of much more than anyone believes. Jonathan begins to question every story he has ever been told about his brother–and if he has so thoroughly misjudged his brother’s mind, what else might he have overlooked about his family, and himself? As the accidents at home multiply and tragedy strikes, a startling picture emerges. One of these brothers is a killer, and the other has no idea.”

02. Bull Mountain // Brian Panowich (July, Putnam Adult)

“The Godfather meets Daniel Woodrell in this Southern debut, a multigenerational saga of crime, family, and vengeance.

Clayton Burroughs comes from a long line of outlaws. For generations, the Burroughs clan has made their home on Bull Mountain in North Georgia, running shine, pot, and meth over six state lines, virtually untouched by the rule of law. To distance himself from his family’s criminal empire, Clayton took the job of sheriff in a neighboring community to keep what peace he can. But when a federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms shows up at Clayton’s office with a plan to shut down the mountain, his hidden agenda will pit brother against brother, test loyalties, and could lead Clayton down a path to self-destruction.”

01. Burning Down George Orwell’s House  // Andrew Ervin (May, Soho Press)

“A darkly comic debut novel about advertising, truth, single malt, Scottish hospitality-or lack thereof-and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Ray Welter, who was until recently a high-flying advertising executive in Chicago, has left the world of newspeak behind. He decamps to the isolated Scottish Isle of Jura in order to spend a few months in the cottage where George Orwell wrote most of his seminal novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Ray is miserable, and quite prepared to make his troubles go away with the help of copious quantities of excellent scotch.

But a few of the local islanders take a decidedly shallow view of a foreigner coming to visit in order to sort himself out, and Ray quickly finds himself having to deal with not only his own issues but also a community whose eccentricities are at times amusing and at others downright dangerous. Also, the locals believe-or claim to believe-that there’s a werewolf about, and against his better judgment, Ray’s misadventures build to the night of a traditional, boozy werewolf hunt on the Isle of Jura on the summer solstice.”

What debut fiction are you looking forward to reading this year?

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